|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
Roger Pratt had problems, the least of which was his name.
Nothing in Roger's life had ever gone right for him. Nobody in the world had ever shown any feelings towards him. He had moved for years from one miserable low-paid job to another, none of which he was able to hang onto for long, until finally he had given up. No job, no friends, and not much of a future; at the bottom of the heap and dead in the water. He couldn't even mix his metaphors very well. It all stemmed from one basic thing.
In a nutshell, Roger was a geek. He'd been a geek since birth, when his parents had tried to take the wrong baby home from the hospital. He'd been a geek at school, where his nickname had been 'Roger the Todger', though his own equipment barely warranted that much of a description. Even other geeks had refused to associate with him on account of his lack of the right qualifications; mathematics, stamps and chessboards all brought him out in a rash.
And Roger was desperate for a girl. Any girl. A real one, not Pamela Hand and her five sisters any more. Dating agencies had all turned up a loser. Psychiatrists and councilors had written him off every time. 'How to get girls' ads in magazines had declared him bad for business. He'd even tried 'Club 18-30' holidays, where the other tourists were so loose you could have bought them from the local markets. Nothing had worked.
So now here he was, stuck in a crappy old bedsit, reduced to the only alternative he had left. He'd read the right books, or at least all the ones by Denis Wheatley he could find at the local library. And thankfully, drawing a chalk circle was something he could actually do. Besides, eternal damnation can't possibly be much worse than the shitty life he'd had so far. Assuming this even worked; if there was to be any justice in the world, the Crown Prince of Darkness would also have to be the Crown Prince of Geekdom, and that was about as likely as an episode of TFI Friday without Robbie Williams on it.
Roger looked at his ensemble and figured he was as ready as he was going to be. A few corners had had to cut of course; instead of the live rooster and sacrificial daggers, he was making do with an oven-ready chicken and a breadknife. Bracing himself, he finished the ritual incantations.
"Testing, one two, one two. Hello, anyone at home?"
The effect was both immediate and dramatic. With a great crash of thunder as phony as a BBC sound effect, a great cloud of noxious green gas billowed into the room, and hung there. It didn't blow a round, it didn't move, it just hung there. Eventually, lethargically, the smoke dissipated to reveal... something.
It was a demon; at least it looked vaguely occultish in that it had horns and red skin. But there the similarities ended. Rather than huge and muscular he was small and bespectacled, and dressed in a full business suit complete with a black bowler hat. Under his nose was a small toothbrush moustache. With a gesture, a black briefcase materialized in his hands, then the demon took off his round glasses and began to clean them.
Fuck me, thought Roger, it's a beaurocrat. Figures.
Oh hell, thought the demon, it's another geek. Right, I don't care what the boss says, this one's buggered.
There was an embarrassed silence for several seconds while Roger tried to decide on the best course of action. Perhaps a touch of politeness would help.
"Erm.. good evening."
The demon did not seem particularly impressed by such a greeting.
"Is that it? You wrench me from the lowest depths of Hades and interrupt my important job sorting out the paperwork for fresh plagues in the Amazon rain forests, you expect to be granted ultimate power in exchange for your soul, and all I get is 'Good evening?'"
"I'm sorry, I haven't had much experience with this." All right, forget the politeness. "It's just that you aren't at all what I was expecting."
"I see. You wanted someone a bit more imposing."
"And a deep bass voice with the acoustics of Wembley Stadium, rather than slightly nasal."
"Well now, I wouldn't-"
"It's this complicated modern world, you see. 'They want stereotypes,' I tell the boss. 'It's bad for your image,' I say to him. 'Train some more nightclub bouncers to do the sales work.' But noooooooo, he's too lazy. Everything was much simpler in the Middle Ages; you just dropped a bombshell like the Black Death once in a while and cleaned up the souls and that was that. Now that your science has become so advanced, we've had to change tactics."
"You mean we're too tough for your plagues to kill off?"
"No, we just can't keep up with all the new ones you invent. We spent centuries researching the AIDS virus, and what did you do? You came up with BSE and upstaged us in one swoop. Pissed off the boss something rotten. The only place without any competition now is the Third World, and nobody pays any attention to that. So we're a lot more subtle now; instead of the occasional major pestilence, we concentrate on many more smaller ones instead. Things you wouldn't normally associate with us but drive you crazy all the same. Asthma, road rage, dogshit, you know the sort of thing. Of course a lot more organization and management is required now, which is where I come in. Accountants, corporate lawyers, civil servants; we're all highly prized personnel down there, so that's one thing at least that we have to thank the modern world for. I myself work in the allergies department."
"Yes, you must have noticed how common they are nowadays.
Everybody's got one, even if it never manifests in their lifetime. And since your earthly attributes are carried over with you when you ente r the next world, there's the scope for a few laughs. For instance, you can imagine the faces on new arrivals when they discover they're allergic to sulphur. The boss gets quite a kick out of that one."
"I can imagine."
"Anyway, enough of that. Let's get down to business."
"Oh. I was quite enjoying that."
The demon raised his arms and began to speak in an enigmatic and forceful voice unbecoming of his stature. "By the authority invested in me, I grant you the designated trade value of the standard soul transaction-"
"Do you want to take it now, or does that wait until I die?"
"Don't interrupt. As I was saying, the designated trade value of the standard soul transaction. To wit, one wish. You may use it now or..." the demon paused to produce a small, green note from one pocket, "...within a time period not exceeding twenty-eight days." He handed Roger the note. It read, 'I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of one wish.'
Well, there was no need to wait. Roger knew what he wanted, something he knew was sure to be popular with the opposite sex. If he couldn't impress them mentally, he would do it physically. He asked for it.
Quizzically the demon raised an ethereal eyebrow. Oh good. I'll have some fun with this one.
"Are you sure? You wouldn't consider something more typical? Wealth? Power? Death, destruction and cosmic vengeance? No?"
Roger shook his head. "Nope. This is what I want, just the way you heard it."
Well, there's my excuse. I'll just pretend I misheard.
"Very well," the demon continued, opening his briefcase. "Before we proceed, I am obliged to warn you that all soul transactions are non-transferable and non-refundable. There is also the small matter of forms SGZ-664 to SGZ-691. Please sign here, and here, and here...."
Roger obliged, glancing through the stack of legal papers as he went. One of them was a receipt. Another appeared to be some sort of release form, complete with fine print. The rest were written in either various bizarre alphabets, or in an antiquated style that he couldn't make head nor tail of.
With the paperwork taken care of, the climax could finally begin.
Roger was instructed to stand in the circle. Heady with anticipation, he obeyed. The demon than uttered some words in a guttural language, and spread his hands in an arcane gesture.
"Last chance to back out."
Roger shook his head, and the demon brought his hands together with a single piercing thunderclap.
Roger began to feel dizzy. He looked around; no, it wasn't his imagination, the room really was starting to rotate around him, picking up speed. His vision blurred as the room spin faster and faster until everything was a whirling mass of colour. Roger was rooted to the spot; he desperately wanted to vomit, but was completely unable to move a muscle. He could feel his consciousness slipping away.
The last thing Roger heard before he blacked out completely was, "Enjoy your new life...!"
Consciousness returned, and Roger opened his eyes to be greeted by darkness.
Something was wrong. A sudden wave of claustrophobia caused him to jerk his head around. Wait, there was something; a number of small holes in one wall. Light was shining behind them, though not enough was coming through to let him see anything within his surroundings. That he wasn't blind was a relief, but that was quickly replaced by an awful sense of foreboding. Wherever he was, it wasn't his flat. Some sort of cell, maybe. What had the demon done to him?
Roger felt himself; two arms, two legs, everything seemed in order except for his clothing. It wasn't his. It was also very stiff and tight. He performed another check... oh. That was unchanged as well.
He'd been screwed after all.
Wandering around his confinement, Roger bumped into something. No, two things. The first was small, wooden, with a cushion on top. A seat. The second and much larger object was also wooden, but solid, and heavier than he was. What the hell was going on here?
Roger moved to a hole and put his hands to the wall. The texture seemed familiar, flat and fairly smooth, but it wasn't any building material he'd ever encountered. He could bend it slightly if he pushed hard enough. What was this room made of? Pressing his face to the hole, he peered out.
From his position it was difficult to make out, but two people were standing in front, talking to each other; though the background noise was too overpowering for him to make out what was being said. One of them stood behind what looked like a long wooden counter with a bottle on it. The other, a younger man, clearly looked annoyed. He kept gesturing towards Roger's prison, and from time to time would take huge swigs from the bottle on the counter. The man behind brought him out another one.
Just then, the young man got to feet and walked towards him. Roger's eyes bulged. God, he was a giant! An enormous, colossal behemoth! Too terrified to scream or even move, Roger could only gape as a huge hand reached out, and the cell was suddenly flooded with light, causing him to avert his eyes for a second. The light became tolerable, and he looked up to see the two men staring at him expectantly. The older one, Roger noticed, was a barman. And suddenly it all made sense.
Oh bollocks. Don't tell me it's this hoary old joke...
Roger's 'prison' was a box- a cardboard box. The smaller object was indeed a stool, standing an arm's length away from an exquisitely-made concert piano. And Roger himself was wearing a tuxedo.
Trust me to summon up a demon with a warped sense of humour.
As the comic setup played to its inevitable conclusion, Roger voiced his outrage the only way he could think of.
"Yeah? What are you supposed to do if you are a fucking eight-inch pianist!?"
To which the only conceivable reply was, play an eight-inch piano.
Punchline copyright 1999 by Eala Dubh.
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