I met the Devil about three weeks ago, in one of those little forested areas between highways. My car had broken down along the Garden State Parkway, and it was late enough at night that there weren’t many other people on the road. My phone was dead (forgot my charger at Jonas’s) and those cars that were on the road couldn’t be bothered to stop and help me. Fucking New Jersey.
It did give me a pretty cool opportunity, though. I’d always wanted to find out what was in those little highway forests, you know, the groves and copses nestled between the lanes of the Parkway or Turnpike, hiding in between exits and inside cloverleaves. So I took a break from waving at passing cars as they approached (and flipping them the bird as they drove away) to check out one of those wooded areas. It felt weird stepping into them, off the highway. It felt so distinctly not normal. You know, like back when you stayed after school back in fifth grade, and it felt so weird, so out-of-place to be there when no one else was. It was kind of the feeling you had where you were constantly telling yourself, subconsciously, that this isn’t where people go and this doesn’t feel quite real. And it didn’t feel real. It felt different.
I suppose that’s why I wasn’t surprised when, a few steps into the forest, I saw the Devil. There was a small clearing where the ground dipped downward, away from the sloping height of the highways behind me. In that clearing was a fallen tree, and on the far side of the clearing was the Devil. He was sitting in an old tire propped up against a tree. It must have been a truck tire or something, because it was pretty big. He was sitting inside of it, his butt on the bottom inner rim and his head resting against the top. There was a small fire in front of him. I couldn’t tell what was burning, and for a minute I was afraid the forest would burn down, but it seemed pretty controlled. Plus, there wasn’t any grass around—just dirt and small pieces of old leaves.. He turned lazily to look at me as I walked down into the clearing.
He looked like he did in all the movies and shows. He was tall, well-dressed in a custom-tailored suit (but without a tie, and collar popped) and he had the most bored-looking eyes you could imagine. He even smiled like the Devil. The only thing different about him was that apparently Hollywood got his race wrong—he was latino, not white.
“Sit down, Jibril.” My name was Gabriel but it seemed smart to respond to whatever he called me. I walked over to the fallen log and sat down, watching him. I felt like I was supposed to be scared, but I wasn’t. It didn’t feel real.
“You paying attention, Jibril?” He asked, pointing at me, his every movement languid and slow. I nodded.
“Good. Saying this only once. Once, you unnerstan’?”
“So you better believe me, okay?” His eyebrows knotted together, indicating he was being serious. “I hate having to repeat myself, but you’re smart, Jibril. You won’ make me do that. You’ll believe me the first time I say something, won’ you?”
I said yes, and meant it. The Devil would not lie to me. I don’t think he would bother talking to me at all if he wasn’t going to tell me the truth.
“Okay, here goes.” He opened his mouth to speak, then made a big show of shutting it and reconsidering. “Also, don’t laugh, okay? I’m telling you something important, so take it seriously. It will be good for you.”
“Okay.” I replied.
“Right. Right. Ra-ra-ra-ight. Here goes.” He slapped his hands together, like he was praying, and then he pointed all his fingers at me. “About three weeks from now, on August the 11th, 2015, at 2:00 in the afternoon, you will find the best watermelon of your lifetime in the bottom left corner of the watermelon display at WholeFoods on Route 35. It will be, quite simply, the best watermelon you will ever taste. The best watermelon you can ever taste, in your lifetime. Don’t miss out on it.”
Then he stood up, stomped out the fire with his Armani shoe, and began to walk away. “Your car’s fixed, by the way.” He said over his shoulder.
I sat in the dark for a long time, wondering what the fuck had just happened, and thinking about poetic shit and watching the last embers from the Devil’s fire die out. After it was dead, I walked over to it to see what he had been burning. It’s funny, when there’s no moon and no flashlights or whatever, you can actually still see by starlight. Like, the actual stars are bright enough to see by.
It looked like he had been burning photographs.
Weeks later, I didn’t actually remember it was August 11th until about one thirty, so I freaked out almost immediately. I was at Jonas’ house at the time, which was about half an hour away from the relevant WholeFoods. I still had time, but it was probably going to be a close run thing. Then again, I didn’t know if there was an actual time limit. He said two o’ clock, but that may have just been when it started being available. However, I wasn’t going to take a chance. I leaped to my feet, flinging myself off the couch.
“Fuck! Sorry, bro, I gotta head out.”
“Shit, really? You just got here.” Jonas said, looking up from the TV. “Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing wrong. Just late. I…I gotta pick something up.”
“Sketchy. What are you up to? Espionage? Drugs? Getting back together with Sam?”
“What? No. I just…”
Jonas shifted in his seat to face me fully, looking a bit irritated. “C’mon, just tell me already.”
I dithered for a moment, then made up my mind. “Alright. Fine. I’m going to pick up a watermelon.”
“A watermelon? Oh, yeah, they’re in season now. There’s a grocery store a block away we could walk to–”
“No, I’m going to pick up a very specific watermelon. Today at 2 o’ clock. At WholeFoods, in the bottom left corner.”
“What the fuck?” Jonas stood up, tossing the remote onto the couch before looking me straight in the eye. “What, is this some special delivery? Are there drugs in the watermelon, or something?”
“God fucking dammit, Jonas, I am not picking up drugs. Just a watermelon.” I snapped at him.
“Give me a goddamn break!” He snapped back. “Why do you need that particular watermelon? Something’s messed up here.”
“I was told it would be the best watermelon I would—I could ever have in my lifetime.”
“What the fuck?”
“The Devil wouldn’t lie.”
“What the fuck?”
“I’m going to go get that watermelon with or without you.”
Jonas stared at me for a couple of seconds, then turned around and headed for the basement steps. “I’ll fill a cooler with ice for the melon. You go cool down the car.”
I breezed past Jonas’ creaky screen door and threw open my sedan’s doors. I set the fans to full blast and switched on the air conditioner for good measure. I watched the heat haze flutter out of the car for a couple minutes, then popped the trunk as soon as Jonas came out with the cooler.
“Nah, we’ll put it in the back seat. It’ll stay colder that way” he said. I nodded and shut the trunk. He shoved the cooler in, adjusted a bit, then swung himself into the shotgun seat and closed the passenger side door in a single smooth motion. I hopped behind the wheel, slammed my own door shut, and then we were off.
It was already 1:58 when we arrived at the WholeFoods parking lot, so I didn’t waste any time. I left Jonas to handle getting the cooler out of the back seat and strode into the supermarket, headed straight for the watermelon display. In an almost feverish rush, I rolled a dozen watermelons out of the way to grab the one the Devil had indicated. At precisely 2:00 I picked up the designated watermelon.
It looked…ordinary. There was no holy light emanating from it, or throbbing red satanic sigils. It had that tell-tale yellow patch on one side that all good watermelons do (that spot appears on melons that have ripened on the vine) but otherwise it had nothing special to indicate that it would be “the best watermelon of [my] lifetime.”
I encountered Jonas on the way to the cashier. He pointed at the melon with his eyebrows raised, as if to say “that it?” I nodded sharply, before targeting the express cashier and gingerly placing the melon down on the conveyor belt.
“Will that be all, sir?” the cashier asked.
“Yes.” I said, paying for the melon. The cashier reached for a bag, but I snatched the melon away from her and immediately placed it in the cooler, which Jonas had helpfully opened for me. “Sir–” the cashier began. “I have to put a sticker on that melon…”
We were already out the door.
“Right.” Jonas said. “We eating this at my place or yours?”
For a moment, I pondered whether I should share it with him. After all, the Devil said it would be the best watermelon of my lifetime—Jonas might have different tastes. Or it might be meant solely for me. I don’t know. But I figured taste in watermelons couldn’t vary that much, and Jonas deserved at least a slice.
“My place.” I said.
We were silent for the most of the way home, then Jonas piped up just as I was turning into my neighborhood.
“Is this a good idea?”
“Is it a good idea? To eat the watermelon?”
“You think the Devil is tricking me? Like this watermelon is the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and that I’ll cause the Second Fall of Man and doom us all to Hell or something by eating it?”
“What? Uh, no. Actually, I think you were right earlier. The Devil probably wouldn’t lie to you.”
“Yeah, I think so too. Like, he wouldn’t need to.”
“Right. No, I think he told you the exact truth. That’s why I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
I backed into my driveway slowly and gingerly, mindful of the slight bump of the curb, not wanting to jostle the watermelon too much. Jonas helpfully kept his hand on the large cooler resting on the back seat, stabilizing it.
“What I’m thinking is, if this watermelon really is the best watermelon of your lifetime, you may want to think twice. I mean, how old are you now, Gabe? 26?”
“27 in September.” I reply, switching off the car and stepping out. Jonas did the same, and kept talking to me over the roof of the car.
“See, you’re 26. You’re young. And if you eat this watermelon, that means that the rest of your life is downhill from here, watermelon-wise.”
I popped open the door, and load the cooler onto my forearms. Jonas kept on talking. “And watermelon is, like, your favorite fruit. Are you really willing to ruin all other watermelons for yourself, for the rest of your life, by eating this one?”
“Get the door.” I reply. “It’s unlocked.”
“Think about it. Is perfection really worth it? You know all that shit about how the journey matters, not the destination? That’s what this is, right here. The Devil gave you the destination. If you take it now, you’re giving up on the journey!”
“What journey?” I say, shouldering my way into the house. I took a moment to scrape some mud over the formerly fluffy bathroom rug that belonged to Sam, which had since been made into my doormat.
“The quest for the best watermelon or something. If you eat that thing now, you’ll never get a better watermelon. Whatever melon you eat from now on will be worse that this one. You’ll never be pleasantly surprised again!”
“The quest for the best watermelon? Well, it would be pretty bad if I ignored the destination, wouldn’t it? Unlike other “destinations” this watermelon will go bad and rot if I don’t eat it. And it’s the best watermelon I can ever eat, in my entire lifetime. I have to try it.”
I walked into the kitchen, placing the cooler on the counter, gently removing the watermelon and placing it on my kitchen island. I grabbed a cutting board and a knife from the drying rack, placing them beside the watermelon in a very exact, precise manner, like they were tools for a surgery…or a sacrifice.
“That’s it! That’s why he didn’t lie! That’s why the Devil told you about this melon. He wants to ruin watermelons for you forever!”
“Fucking really? You’d think the Devil would have better things to do, and better ways to punish people. Woe is me and my sinful life, I can’t eat watermelon anymore.”
“Well, what’s more likely?” Jonas retorted. “That the Devil is a dick, or, out of the kindness of his Satanic, hellish heart, he decided to point you towards a really good watermelon?”
I made the first cut, carefully dividing the melon into precise halves.
“You’re falling for the Devil’s trap, man! You’re playing right into his blood-stained hands!”
“Not funny anymore, Jonas. I’m eating this goddamn watermelon.” I cut one of the halves into quarters.
“Just wait for a moment–”
“I’m eating this goddamn watermelon!” I snapped at him. Jonas looked stunned for a moment, and I felt a bit weird too. Strange. I don’t think I’d actually raised my voice, or gotten angry at anyone, since…well, since I broke up with Sam.
“What the fuck, Gabe?” Jonas said. “You never get mad like this. Maybe this Devil watermelon is fucking you up.”
“What the fuck is your problem, Jonas?” I retorted, getting irritated again. “It’s a fucking watermelon. Let me eat it.”
“No, man, this is messed up. You’re getting all emotional and shit, not acting yourself. Maybe you should put that thing in the refrigerator for a bit, relax a bit–”
“It might go bad.”
“That’s why I said to put it in the refrigerator, so that it doesn’t–”
“The Devil told me it would be ready at 2:00 and it’s already 2:30!”
I cut a slice off one of the quarters, then another, then another, until I had a few to choose from. I selected one, and was about to pick it up, when Jonas grabbed my wrist. “I’m telling you, bro–”
When I was younger, my older sister taught me a very important lesson about fighting. We were walking back from school together, when she asked me “if two fighters are just as fast, and they both take a swing, whose fist lands first?”
That would have been a random question coming from anyone else, but my sister was just like that. I pondered it for a moment, then suggested: “I suppose they’d both punch each other at the same–”
Then she walloped me right in the face. Her fist just snapped up and hit me across the nose. I stumbled off, screaming curses. “Whoever punches first.” She told me, smiling. “Sooner is better than faster.”
So that’s why Jonas never finished his sentence. The moment his hand closed around my right wrist, my left hand let go of the knife (I wanted to stop him, not kill him) which clattered to the floor. My left fist flew up, catching him just below his right ear. I heard his jaw click and saw him fall down like a ton of bricks. Amazingly, though, he wasn’t out, just rolling on the floor, moaning incoherently and crying a bit.
“Sorry, man, but I have to do this.” I picked up the watermelon slice and Jonas stabbed me in the calf. He picked the knife up off the floor and stabbed me in the calf! I screamed “fuck” in a really high-pitched, breathless voice that probably sounded louder to dogs than humans. I let go of the watermelon slice, which landed on the floor with a wet splat.
Jonas and I wriggled on the floor a bit, him trying to talk with an injured jaw, and me trying to get up with a bleeding leg. Jonas recovered first.
“I’m sorry too, guh. Guh-Gabe, but (fuck, that hurts) whatever fucking magic shit the Devil did to you is fucking you up, and eating that watermelon is the last thing you want to do.” He said, managing to stand up. I reached for the watermelon slice that had fallen to the floor. He kicked it out of the way and I screamed in anger, tears of frustration rolling down my face.
“I’m gonna burn this Satanic piece of shit fruit.” Jonas said.
“You’re gonna burn…a watermelon?” I replied, giggling, even though I was so angry I could have bitten his nose off. “There’s a key word you may be missing. Watermelon. Ha. Heh.”
Jonas ignored me, grabbing an armful of slices and throwing them in the trash. I clenched my teeth in rage. He then grabbed the large half, which wouldn’t fit in my small trashcan, so he simply opted to throw it out the window. I screamed at him.
But he had forgotten something else. I still had the knife. And while it hurt too much to stand up, it didn’t hurt too much to pull out the knife (which did hurt a lot) and stab Jonas back. But unlike him, I didn’t aim for the calf. No. I went for the fucking femoral artery. Or at least I hope I did. I may have missed.
He moaned an airless scream, falling to the ground (again) while still holding the last quarter of watermelon. He grabbed onto it like it was a football, curling his body around it to keep it away from me. I crawled over him, reaching for it. Blood and watermelon juice sloshed around us. But before I could pluck the watermelon from Jonas’ grasp, the Devil walked in.
“Look at this shit.” he said. His voice seemed to echo in small kitchen. He was dressed in a similar suit to the one he wore the last time I saw him, but this time his shirt was gray and the cut of his lapels was different. Beside him stood a newcomer, an Indian guy with blue skin, wearing sandals and a wraparound skirt. He had a cool beard.
“I’d like some context.” The Indian guy said. He had a bow in one hand, but no arrows I could see.
“See that one?” he said, pointing at me. “I told him when and where to find the best watermelon of his lifetime.”
“That’s it! I jus’ told him where to find the watermelon. I didn’ do anything else!”
Jonas and I had stopped struggling at this point, both just watching the creatures before us.
“There’s two mortals here lying in a pool of blood, Lucifer.”
“They did that themselves!” he cried out, holding out his hands at us. “Every fucking time! I can’t say anything to these lil’ shits without them killing each other!”
The Indian guy laughed, and the whole house shook. “You poor bastard!” He cried out. Catching his breath, he pulled a wallet out of his skirt (where from?) and handed Lucifer a twenty. “Alright, you won the bet. You officially have the worst time with mortals.”
“It’s my fucking pops, I swear. The asshole probably gets off on torturing mortals I try to be nice to.” He grabbed the twenty, then walked out the front door, cursing under his breath. The Indian guy turned to look at a us for a moment, smiled, and followed the Devil out the door.
For a several seconds, the kitchen was quite, except for the ticking of the silly antique clock Sam made me buy. I should burn that thing.
Our legs were still bleeding. “Did I get your femoral artery?” I asked Jonas.
“Nah. You missed by a fucking mile.”
I didn’t feel angry anymore. “We should probably call for an ambulance.”
“Yeah.” Jonas said. I pulled out my phone and called 911. I put it down when I was done, carefully choosing a spot of the floor without blood or juice.
“Watermelon?” Jonas offered the last quarter of the fruit. I took a bite.
It was pretty good.